| 6.1°C Belfast

Chris Holt: Neil Lennon can lift Celtic's gloom in the long run

Well it could have been a lot worse for Neil Lennon — his conquerors were at least better than Artmedia Bratislava.

The former Northern Ireland international has begun his managerial career like another flamed-haired boss of the Hoops, Gordon Strachan, and if he’s honest, if things turn out the way they did for the fiery Scotsman, then Lennon won’t complain too much.

Back in 2005, Strachan, too, fell at the first hurdle in the Champions League as his side were thumped 5-0 by the Slovakian minnows.

Even though they fought back to register a 4-0 win at Celtic Park, the manager faced fierce criticism from demanding fans who had got used to famous European nights under the stewardship of Martin O’Neill.

Strachan was under pressure from the off but on settling into his seat in the dug-out, he would go on to win the league at his first attempt and then go and do it again for two more seasons, becoming only the third Celtic manager to lead a team to three successive league titles. Lennon, who played in those games against Artmedia, will take heart from that fact.

Last night, having fallen to a surprise 3-0 defeat to the ordinary Sporting Braga in the first leg, a rather more spirited, though ultimately fruitless display was turned out, in a 2-1 victory on home soil.

Though some may have already decided that Lennon is not capable of taking the title away from Rangers, most will back the Lurgan man.

The difference between him and Strachan is that Lennon is seen very much as one of their own in the eyes of the Parkhead faithful and that in itself will buy him plenty of time.

Also going in his favour is the fact that he has already come across as media friendly in the Glasgow goldfish bowl and there will be few ready to write his managerial obituary just yet.

But what the rookie boss has to do now is get off to a good start on the domestic front and then hope for a prolonged run in the Europa League.

He has been given a relatively large transfer budget already and fans will now be looking for a return on that, in the form of success.

His job has been made difficult by this early set-back, but it has to be seen as just that — a minor blip on what he will see as a long term plan to have green and white ribbons adorning trophies for years to come.

There are sure to be some detractors who will claim that Lennon’s lack of experience has been shown up already, but if he continues to show the same fight and determination as a boss as he showed as a player, there will be much better occasions ahead than last night.

Belfast Telegraph